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The Bestest Best Tactics Of 2014: Door Kickers

Smart, Accessible, Fun

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Long for a tactical diversion fit for a five minute or five hour play session? Door Kickers will satisfy, by being able to meet the needs of genre-newcomers, the time-poor, as well as those who know their crisscross from their buttonhook.

Graham: Door Kickers can be simply described as being like Frozen Synapse with a lick of Rainbow Six paint, but it’s also a lesson in the power of theme and setting.

It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Frozen Synapse’s electric blue or future fiction, but the pause-and-move tactics of Door Kickers is made all the more compelling by its drug dens and terrorist towns, its fumbled flashbangs and off-screen snipers, its swatted SWATS and crumpling crims. Synapse came alive for me only in multiplayer, where its abstractions were given meaning by competition; Door Kickers works in singleplayer because I instinctively want to protect my fleshy officers and fragile hostages.

The setting also turns simple, tactical decision making into simple, memorable stories. I harped on about this for Qvadriga also, but I love turn-based games where narrative emerges from the logic and numbers. Door Kickers has that not because of persistence or named soldiers, but because its levels create a different drama with every attempt.

The first attempt to storm a house might turn into a tale of front door folly, as you flashbang-breach but lose most of your men to an enemy behind cover because you didn’t take the time to peak under the door with a camera. The second, a beach landing which forces the enemy to retreat inside the house, but in so doing gives them opportunity to establish a near unassailable entrenched position. The third, a long, attritional battle that leaves you with one man edging through corridors till a roving do-wronger blasts you in your six.

None of these stories are fit for even a Tom Clancy game, but it’s notable that I’ve noted them. These are three failures amid a dozen others still swimming in my brain from a single level I played weeks ago.

The credit for that goes partly to the understandable setting, but also to the tactical options offered and the AI’s ability to adapt and surprise. Each of the above failures wasn’t prompted by a prescribed situation, though levels are fixed and enemy positions only somewhat randomised. They were the result of fifty decisions I’d made previously during the same mission: that sniper shot I took too early; that flashbang I wasted; that angle I forgot to cover. You are the master of your own demise and every decision is significant.

Thankfully the game’s retention of previous plans between attempts mean that it only takes a minute to return to your previous situation and try again after each failure. Instead of repetitive, there’s a feeling of moving incrementally towards perfection, of drawing blueprints till you have the swift replay of a flawless breach and clear.

It is also, blissfully, simple. In Tim’s review he hoped for greater complexity to its moveset, while also hoping that it wouldn’t damage the game’s lightweight core. I’m happy with things the way they are. You can’t lean or shoot through thin objects or crouch, but Door Kickers justifies every absence by the thriftiness with which it delivers fun, fiendish and memorable challenges.

Adam:

SWAT 4 might well be the best tactical first-person game ever made and despite differing in perspective, Door Kickers is the closet thing to a modern successor. I hadn’t paid much attention to the game until Tim Stone’s review because the apparent flippancy of the title made me think it’d be a gimmicky little thing, light on either ideas or content. Oops.

I can often be seen in the local branch of Waterstones snootily judging books by their covers.

Door Kickers is a smashing top-down tactical masterclass, with enough missions to shake a nightstick at, randomised enemy placements to add further variety, and a bundled level editor allows devious designers to create their own maps and missions. Rather than the flimsy framework I expected, Door Kickers is a complete package of planning, panicking and policing.

It’s also a simple game to pick up and play. Every task works intuitively, whether you’re infiltrating or incapacitating, and despite the possibility of meticulous planning, experimentation is encouraged. Draw up a plan and you don’t have to wait long to see it in action, groaning or celebrating depending on the outcome.

Elegantly and cleanly presented, Door Kickers presents the organisation and oft-violent operations of police squads without glamorising the militaristic qualities that Hardline seems to find so exciting. There’s plenty of detail in the maps and I’m always pleased by credible representations of actual places in our messy, modern world.

I installed the game on a Friday night and played it for most of the weekend that followed. I haven’t binged on it since then, but it’s ability to fill any amount of time – whether a coffee break or a spare day – is one of its finest qualities. The game continues to expand as well and developers Killhouse have committed to fixes, tweaks and additions.

Door Kickers is a tactical game with a theme rarely explored in games. After many hours of play, I find the results of actions a little too predictable. I’d like to see a morale system for NPCs, causing them to surrender or flee when a SWAT plan comes together, creating the possibility of additional chaos. But there’s no need to ask for more. Door Kickers is a hearty meal.

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